MENTION Switzerland, and delectable chocolates and precise watches come to mind.
On an autumn trip last year, I also found the country’s transportation system superb and an integral part of the relaxing travel experience.
Switzerland enjoys on average 122km of railway track per 1,000 sq km, higher than the European average of 46km. Swiss citizens are among the most prolific railway users, and in 2008, each travelled an average of 2,422km on trains.
Our first train trip was a breeze as Lucerne is just around 48km from Zurich Flughafen (airport). Once settled down on the upper deck, we enjoyed a quiet and smooth journey in clean and comfortable seats.
Lucerne’s highlights include the historic Chapel Bridge and Lion Monument, which we found a contrast between bustle and tranquillity. Many people also use Lucerne as a base to explore central Switzerland.
We headed to Mount Rigi, a trip which involved rides on a nostalgic steamboat ferry, Europe’s first cogwheel train and a cable car.
The ascent on the cogwheel train saw climbs as steep as 25 per cent incline — it seemed that the train was going to roll backwards. Slowly and steadily, the train dutifully hauled the full load of passengers safely to 1,752m above sea level.
Unfortunately, fog drastically reduced visibility from the top of the Queen of the Mountains. However, while returning from the cable car station to the ferry terminal, we walked past some quaint houses.
Lucerne is home to the Swiss Museum of Transport. Transportation buffs or families with kids can spend half a day or more there.
We encountered a big excursion group before us at the ticketing queue but once admitted, there was plenty of space to roam around the interactive indoor and outdoors exhibits. These include trains, ships, planes, cars, cable cars and more.
Panoramic train with a view
Lucerne to Montreux on the GoldenPass Line was our longest and most picturesque train ride in Switzerland.
One can travel Classic on a romantic Belle Époque train reproduction. We took the modern Panoramic trains with super-sized windows to enjoy the views better.
It was around early October and most of the passing scenery was still a therapeutic green, interspersed with farmhouses and livestock, and snow-capped mountains.
I found the views around Lake Geneva the most dramatic — combining tall mountain range, shimmering waters and lakeside housing clusters as the train slowly approached Montreux.
Capital city Bern
Legend has it that Count Berchtold V named this capital city after killing a bear there.
Bern’s Bear Pit has attracted tourists for centuries.
In 2009, the new Bear Park opened in extension to the monumental pit, allowing its furry residents larger roaming space and also to catch fresh fish from the Aare River.
From the bear pit, we strolled uphill to the Rose Garden — as recommended by the Airbnb host we were lodging with — and were rewarded with pretty flowers and a good view of the old town.
Referred by the locals as the Lauben, the old town is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Lined with mediaeval architecture and classy shopping arcades, the streets made for pleasant strolling.
A sizeable crowd gathered in front of the Zytglogge, the clock tower, and we joined to see its amusing animatronic display. The weekly market showcased colourful produce and goods.
We also enjoyed Zentrum Paul Klee, situated in the outskirts of the city, with its eponymous painting collection housed in three wave-shaped buildings designed by architect Renzo Piano.
Its Hauptbahnhof (main station) is among the busiest in the world, serving more than 2,900 trains daily.
An hour away is the Rhine Falls, the largest plain waterfall in Europe, measuring 150m wide and 23m high. We could get quite close to the gushing waters, which filled the air with refreshing mist and roaring sounds.
Zurich was where we had the shortest ride. The UBS Polybahn track may be only 176m long, and the trip takes just 100 seconds. Yet over two million passengers ride it each year.
Once it reaches the top, a short walk takes you to the terrace by the main ETH Zurich university building, which has good views of the city.
We were blessed with excellent weather during our morning ferry cruise around Lake Zurich.
The open deck was perfect for sitting back and taking in the ever-changing scenery as the boat moved along. Endless rows of buildings dotted the hilly landscape as we cruised past moored yachts, a lone rower, powerboats, swimmers, gulls and ducks.
We may have travelled a loop back to the ferry terminal, but the condensed two-hour cruise offered plenty of sights.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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